Title: Doors we open, lines we cross
Author: Aristide Cauquemaire
Pairing: none (for now, but H/D)
Warnings: Yes, this is my first. No, I didn't have a beta. Yes, this is going to be naughty eventually. Please, have a go anyway. This is a story about crossing lines, after all. Leave a comment, that'd be quite lovely.
Note: I don't know whether those who have me on their "follow"-list will get mails due to this activity. I hope you don't/didn't because this is just a basic makeover. I'm correcting the formatting, spacing, paragraphing and the German quotation marks and all the little things that irk me. Nothing changes about the content. I repeat: This story is just the same, just some cosmetic improvement.
Severus Snape was a spy. He wasn't quite sure when it had started, or how it had happened exactly, but he was. For such a long time, in fact, that to him, being a spy was linked inseparably with being alive.
In order to become a spy, he had, likewise since an unspecifiable point in time and manner, given up being what others might call 'normal'. Sometimes it seemed likely to him that he hadn't been entirely normal to start with, but to commence spying had meant separating with the last vestiges of normalcy he had clung to. Or that had clung to him in the vain attempt to make a social animal out of him, whatever the case may have been.
He had given up on being careless or optimistic. He had given up on sleeping deeply, and breathing deeply. He even avoided thinking too deeply unless his surroundings were absolutely stable and controlled, for fear of missing a moment. For years and years he had anticipated for each and every moment to be the very last moment of his life, and he hadn't been able to bear the thought of being inattentive and missing it.
And then, a baby boy – the baby boy, son of Lily Potter, the one woman who Severus Snape still loved and still longed for after long, bitter years of slow abandonment and ultimately outright betrayal; the boy who, in another life or another universe in which he was a better and much braver man, might have been his own son – killed a man.
Sifting through smouldering debris, it was hard to say what exactly had transpired that night. But to Severus Snape it was clear that Harold James Potter of Godric's Hollow, barely aged one year and three months, son of James and Lily Potter, née Evans, both recently and violently deceased at the age of 21, had indeed killed a man.
Tom Riddle had come to the Potter's house that night with fear in his tiny, blackened heart urging him forward – actual human fear that Severus had even spied in his eyes at the mention of a prophecy of downfall and defeat.
Harry Potter, tiny, crying, swaddled Harry Potter had been instrumental to somehow deflecting a curse that had killed the man Tom Riddle once and for all and left only the monster, flayed of anything humane.
The monster, not quite dead, had curled up like a worm on the pavement and then slithered into the undergrowth for some time, unseen. Like a snake leaves its skin, it had shed the man's fear into the mortal world. It wasn't much, for he was just one man, but it made countless people shy away from saying his name.
The times had been deafeningly silent. And boring, in a good way. Placid, one might call it. They had been content or even something akin to happy. For years on end Severus Snape had the luxury of thinking about little else than employment, timetables, exam materials and exam correction, pupils and pupil evaluation, and homework. And about food – glorious Hogwarts food, tea that was never tasteless, never too sweet and always hot enough, coffee that was invariably exactly right, meals that deserved six-page descriptions, especially the holiday meals. Every year he had – by his standards – exhaustive conversations with Albus Dumbledore about which feast had been superior, Start of Term, Hallowe'en, Christmas, New Year, Yule Ball or End of Term. They never agreed. Mostly Severus reckoned that this was a tactic of Albus' to get him to talk, even if it was just about tarts. He preferred that marginally to listening to Albus talk about socks.
He didn't think about spying, although he was aware that it never really went away. It was something that just happened, like blinking. It didn't demand or require any conscious effort, it was just there.
At the same time, there was no one to collect results. No one to keep track, no one to punish and hurt and terrorize him if the results he brought forward were lacking or displeasing in any way. Severus was at peace with spying.
In those calm years Severus Snape managed to convince himself that his spying was merely a habit that he was fond of, a hobby he was good at, something that had everything to do with his superior memory and perception and nothing with those memories starting in his adolescence, shrouded by his mind in self-defence. He became certain that he had developed it to help him with potion-making. Or maybe it was a quirk, a talent. A sport, even. A substitute for sudoku and crossword puzzles to keep his brain sharp.
His decision to keep his abilities alive was to the disadvantage of the pupils of Hogwarts and quickly earned him the questionable titles of Greatest Pain-in-the-arse Classroom Tyrant and Least Liked Teacher in the History of possibly just about Ever.
There were no notes passed on during his lessons. There was no whispering, no cheating, no wastefulness with the ingredients, no sloppiness with the notes, no inattention or daydreaming. Anything unrelated to potions was simply unacceptable. A not-so-smart Ravenclaw with the unfortunate name of Adalbert Corkduggle was the first and last pupil who ever attempted to surreptitiously finish an essay for another subject – Transfiguration, in his case – during his class. For the rest of his life, poor Corkduggle would never hear the names 'Snape' or 'McGonagall' again without flinching and paling a little.
There was nothing and no one that escaped him.
The very year he started his employment as the Potions Master, also taking over the post of Head of House Slytherin from Horace Slughorn, he noticed during one of his nightly walks that dungeons, not unlike the Astronomy Tower, attracted students in search of privacy.
He could even understand them, to some extent. He had been young himself, once, and pubertal. He had kissed sloppily, groped clumsily and fondled in the same dark corners of this maze – not anywhere near as much as he would have liked to, usually in exchange for Potions or DADA homework, and, sadly, nothing more than that had ever happened, granted. But aforementioned things had happened once upon a time. In those very same places, too. He had been a Slytherin, after all.
Still, there had to be rules and they had to be kept at all costs.
As time went by and past horrors faded further into the distance – so much so that many of them felt like they had happened to a friend of a friend of an acquaintance somewhen, somewhere, maybe –, rules and making sure they were adhered to became more and more important to Severus.
Perhaps this was because everything else that had ever held his undivided attention receded into unimportance and degenerated into pictures with a sepia tone. Or maybe it was just because he was getting old, and both the half of his life he was looking back to and the half that still stretched out before him were, if he were entirely frank with himself, generally disillusioning and disappointing. It was a bad, even childish reason to be as unpleasant as he was, but this was the one thing he had started in his life that had him believe that he could actually finish it, and properly, and so he would damn well keep going until the bitter end.
His bed had never been anything but empty. He wished the castle were as big as it looked from the outside. If it did, his walks would take longer.
Through endless trial and error and several visits to the Restricted Section of the school library he found a way to deal with the wards of Hogwarts that ran through its walls like veins do through flesh and skin. He had noticed that they interfered with most of his usual spying spells and made them unreliable. Then again, there was nothing quite like a good challenge, and nothing more satisfying than overcoming it.
His new and modified spying spells allowed him to put silent alarms connected to his private quarters onto the most obvious corridors, classrooms and niches. They also enabled him to detect the warmth emanating from human bodies, to see around corners as well as through walls of stone and doors of wood, and to eavesdrop. In short, he was all but over-equipped to manage the tracking down of addle-brained, amorous teenager couples out for nightly adventures in the castle's bowels.
He also made a habit of watching and listening for a minute after having successfully located the perpetrators. Not for kinky pleasure – there were very, very few pleasurable things about a desperate teenager's sexuality trying to express itself. No, his interest in details was inspired by pragmatism.
In the same way that Know thine enemy is true for Muggles, Know thine enemy and frighten him with your knowledge is true for Severus Snape.
Simply stumbling over Barry and Olivia in an alcove wouldn't impress them, Severus had learned. They'd be flustered, embarrassed and chagrined about the hours of detention they'd get, but they'd inevitably be back sooner or later. Worse, being stumbled over by a teacher would give them a fright that obviously only added to the allure of sneaking into the dungeons after curfew and misusing them as a private room a second and sometimes a third time. As if it were all a titillating game of hide-and-seek for them.
Addressing Barry and Olivia with their names at the exact right moment had proved to be far more effective. The tone of voice and the volume was important as well. Sometimes his entrance had to be silent and unnoticeable, so that he seemed to materialize out of nowhere like Filch and his awful cat did. Sometimes he would fling doors open with a bang, a flourish and a billowing of robes that would have made Gilderoy Lockhart break down in tears. In some cases it would be ideal to use the information gleaned from the previous minute of observation and eavesdropping against the two of them. Subtly letting them know that he knew, that he had the knowledge to embarrass them to the marrow of their bones was the vital part of this art; perfecting it was a delight that Severus indulged in with wanton. After being caught, literally, with their pants down, Barry and Olivia also tended to be much more diligent in Potions class. Other teachers might have called it 'extremely subdued' or 'completely paralysed with fear'. Personally, Severus had never set much store by other people's pedagogic methods.
By the end of his second year of employment Severus Snape knew that he effectively mastered the craft of creating childhood trauma. And he was really good at it. His reputation alone kept all but the most desperate, or dense, or daredevil snoggers out of his dungeons – hence the rise of the Astronomy Tower's popularity among the student body.
After a year or so, his magical alarms only went off once every other month. Sometimes nothing happened for three, four, even five months on end.
He still stuck to his routine of nightly walks. Betimes he would clear out the Astronomy Tower as well, but as a rule he never strayed very far from his subterranean realm which was so complacently void of other people and belonged only to him.
His bed was still and always empty, its sheets numbingly cold.
And then Harry Potter was old enough to attend Hogwarts.
As soon as the boy became a part of the wizarding world again – after, as he understood the headmaster's anecdotes, roughly nine years of a childhood made entirely of deprivation that, in Albus Dumbledore's sometimes questionable brain, had served nicely to build the lad's character – it began to churn and boil like a cauldron filled with volatile, reactive base potion to which an ingredient had been erroneously added.
Severus' days of peace were over before he even recognized them as such. The tension rose steadily and before long, in a mere matter of four years, the situation had escalated beyond redemption over again.
Before long, he spent almost every night out of his empty bed again, travelling through the country again, meeting seedy people in seedy places again, exchanging information neither Barry nor Olivia had ever dreamed of in their worst nightmares again. He became too tired to sleep and he wished desperately for the exams to take his mind off the things that transpired, but they never quite managed to. All too soon, he spent every waking second consciously feeling his left arm again, thinking about that breathing, pulsing, living thing right under his skin, burnt into his muscles, carved into the bone.
Later, he found himself being smothered by a black hood again and, finally, by a silver mask that was always slick on his skin with perspiration and water vapour from his breath. And, more than once, soundless, bitter tears.
Spying under pressure still fit him so well, after all those years, like a shoe well worn-in half an eternity ago. The punishments for failure seemed harsher now which, he reasoned, was only natural given that the monster Lord Voldemort had swallowed up and taken the place of the man Tom Riddle.
Lord Voldemort had no notions about future investments.
Tom Vorlost Riddle, fundamentally scared of the future like every human being was, had been concerned about his henchmen and their loyalties. He had been worried about defectors and about scaring his own helpers away from him, knowing that, despite his own greatness, they alone made him truly mighty and fearsome and someone. At the same time, he had been frightened that one of his footmen might rise up against him eventually. He had been anxious about not being able to hold on to his power a week, a month, a year, two years, ten, twenty, fifty years from any given day.
Lord Voldemort was devoid of such notions. He had faced death and death hadn't held on to him. Eternity lay before his feet. Present and future were one single unit, and this unit belonged to him and no one else. In this picture, minions were a mere liability. A flaw staining his perfection, only a temporary necessity to spread the news. Like everything else except for himself, they were fundamentally irrelevant. And so was their pain.
Still utterly worn and tetchy from a seemingly endless string of Cruciatus inflicted days ago, Severus Snape decided to throw himself at the mercy of Albus Dumbledore, like he had done before, but for good this time. Knowing in his gut where it would lead.
Although the man hated him – and deep down he did, doubtlessly, because deep down Severus could not help but hate himself either –, although all of his goody two-shoes comrades despised and mistrusted him, and although there was, realistically speaking, no way for him to survive this war as well –- at the very least, on Dumbledore's side he was relevant. Not very. Not much at all. But people knew his name and noted his presence.
Maybe they would note his absence, eventually.
It was this thought that he was dwelling on in the night of the finalist's ball as he sat cooped up in his dungeon quarters, on the desk next to his empty bed.
The scroll under his fingers was flecked with ink and ripped in two places. Every time the ugly mark on his arm flared up with pain, he wouldn't be able to hold on to his quill properly, would involuntarily stab and rip the parchment and break the delicate feather tip. Ink would splatter all over his last will and splinters of keratin would scatter over his desk and into his lap.
He wasn't angry for ruining the will because no one would ever read it anyway. He had burned the last three versions and he planned to do the same to this specimen. But, he thought as he renewed the tourniquet and pulled it so tight that he grunted with effort and pain, people would notice that he hadn't written a last will. The people around Albus Dumbledore just worked that way. One day they would find themselves standing in front of a small heap of his former belongings, his leftovers that had been swept together – mostly cauldrons stained beyond recovery and jars of exotic ingredients he had ordered for himself and not for Potions lessons –, and look around asking each other going 'Well. What're we gonna do with all this shit, then?'
And then they would remember him.
Severus knew he shouldn't find this thought soothing but somehow it was. Just like writing his will – listing up his meagre possessions – calmed his nerves without good reason.
In the far shelf, one of his glasses suddenly began to sing. It took him five full seconds to understand what it meant.
The alarm. Lovers in the dungeons. On his last night. An after-prom date. How predictable.
He screwed the inkwell shut, rolled up the parchment into a neat cylinder before tossing it into the fire, cleaned and whittled the quill and put it into his drawers. The glass kept singing its high note. As he was doing up the buttons to his most billowy robes – with fingers that were unsteady exclusively due to the pain, surely – another glass joined in, then another and finally a small one in the corner, giving him a clear idea of route and destination.
He almost smiled to himself as he locked the door to his personal quarters behind him and went on this chase, the pain in his arm receding before the onset of his hunter's calm.